We wondered why the pace of leaks from Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s office started to slow late last summer – and then, suddenly, Mueller dropped the Manafort-Gates indictments, unsealed George Papadopoulos’s plea agreement and announced the cooperation of Michael Flynn, all in a relatively narrow time period, with almost nothing appearing in the press ahead of time.
It’s notable that the pace of leaks started to slow after Mueller reportedly demoted Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who was first outed for trading anti-Trump text messages with his mistress, Lisa Page, and also helped steer the FBI’s probe away from signs of Hillary Clinton’s guilt.
But now, the pace of leaks out of the special counsel’s office is quickening once again: Tonight, for the first time in months, the Washington Post and New York Times published twin bombshells based on information clearly leaked by a member of Mueller’s team.
The NYT reports that President Trump considered firing White House Counsel Don McGahn III after he refused to release a statement denying reports that he had threatened to resign when Trump asked him about firing Mueller.
Trump’s conversation with McGahn, which occurred after McGahn had met with investigators from Mueller’s team, was one of two conversations where Trump reportedly asked witnesses about what they said to the grand jury.
Former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter later told McGahn that Trump had considered firing him for his disloyalty.
Trump also reportedly asked former chief of staff Reince Preibus whether Mueller’s team was “nice” to him when Preibus sat for an interview with investigators…
The report clearly suggests that Mueller is still casting about for evidence that the president has tried to obstruct justice – and, as part of this, is also exploring whether Trump tried to disrupt the Mueller probe.
The experts said the meetings with Mr. McGahn and Mr. Preibus would probably sharpen Mr. Mueller’s focus on the president’s interactions with other witnesses. The special counsel has questioned witnesses recently about their interactions with the president since the investigation began. The experts also said the episodes could serve as evidence for Mr. Mueller in an obstruction case.
The WaPo report focuses on another branch of the Mueller investigation (it’s not really accurate to refer to it as “the Russia probe” anymore because, though Mueller says he’s still looking into the Russia angle, he has clearly moved on to other potentially more fruitful avenues). That branch is the financial and business conflicts of both the Trump family and his associates – epitomized by Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump campaign executive Paul Manafort.
In the WaPo report, Congressional investigators apparently believe they’ve caught Blackwater founder Erik Prince (brother of Trump Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoes) in a lie.
According to the story, Prince told investigators that an already-public 2017 meeting in the Seychelles between Prince and a Russian emissary wasn’t planned.
But apparently, George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who’s been caught up in the probe, told investigators that the meeting was planned for the purposes of establishing a relationship between Trump and Moscow as Trump prepared – and this is important – to take the oath of office. As we’ve already learned, communications between an incoming administration (or its representatives) and foreign officials isn’t illegal (it’s actually quite common)
Last year, Prince told lawmakers, and the news media, that his Seychelles meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian government-controlled wealth fund, was an unplanned, unimportant encounter that came about by chance because he happened to be at a luxury hotel in the Indian Ocean island nation with officials from the United Arab Emirates.
In his statements, Prince has specifically denied reporting by The Washington Post that said the Seychelles meeting, which took place about a week before Trump’s inauguration, was described by U.S., European and Arab officials as part of an effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and the incoming administration.
Prince told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that he did not plan to meet Dmitriev in the Seychelles but that once he was there discussing possible business deals with UAE officials, they unexpectedly suggested that he visit the hotel bar and meet Dmitriev.
“At the end, one of the entourage says, ‘Hey, by the way, there’s this Russian guy that we’ve dealt with in the past. He’s here also to see someone from the Emirati delegation. And you should meet him, he’d be an interesting guy for you to know, since you’re doing a lot in the oil and gas and mineral space,’ ” Prince told lawmakers.
The two men, he said, spoke for no more than 30 minutes, or about the time it took him to drink a beer.
While the meeting itself may have been legal, lying to the FBI is, of course, blatantly illegal – and Mueller has already demonstrated an eagerness to bust people for perjury. Which the begs the question: Why, then, has Prince not been arrested and charged? If WaPo’s reporting is accurate, then it wouldn’t be out of the question – in fact, it’d be likely. Though, there’s also the possibility that Nader could be lying, which isn’t addressed in the story.
Either way, we imagine the leaks from these past couple weeks are only the beginning: Expect updates from the interminable Mueller probe to become a daily fact of life once again.